F4 Change Came Suddenly

NOTE:  This article may read as my single handed effort to move my Father to a safe place.  In fact, my sister Lou Ann, and her husband, Fred, have been the prime caregivers for my Father for many years.  My sister, Joyce, living in Jackson, has been a steady presence over the years.  And my brother, Steve, has come to Casper as often as he can, from Michigan.  Through the past several weeks, the entire Family, including my Father, have moved in concert, with the single goal of making my Father’s life safe and manageable.

Change announced itself with the ringing of the phone.  I listened as Marian talked on the phone for several minutes.  Paying little attention, at first, I realized she was talking to my youngest sister.  With anxiety building, I took the phone.  Change had come, unwanted, unhappily intruding on our family.

It was Sunday.  My Father had fallen.  He was in the hospital.  My sisters were trying to balance their lives, and help.  My brother and I, half a continent away, had to come to grips with change.  Through the week we talked, sometimes in conference calls, often through texts.  Change had come, but we did not know the new direction for our family.

My Father, after a second fall, and another trip to the ER, was finally moved to Elkhorn Valley Rehabilitation Center.  He knew he wasn’t going home.  He wasn’t safe there, anymore.  Change had come, and I pushed myself away from denial.

Weather intruded, raining in San Jose, snowing on Donner and points east.  Marian and I waited a day, anxiety and guilt building.  Hoping for the best, we hastily put the cats in the kennel, and stuffed Sierra in the back seat.  We put a brave face on our venture.  Whatever our smiles might have said, change had come, and I was going home.

We reduced the cost of boarding our pets by taking Sierra, our Samoyed, and resigning ourselves to white hair everywhere.  The two day drive gave me the chance to learn from my wife, who had helped move her Mother to a Retirement Home two years before.

Our drive down a familiar highway brought back happy memories of family vacations.  Half a continent had not deterred us from linking our children to our roots.  We wanted roots to take hold, and our children bask in the warmth and love of extended families, and not be cut off from their past.  But, lurking in the back of our minds was the knowledge that change had come at last.  The roots would hold, or not.

We have taken dozens of trips to Wyoming.  This trip was only our second time in winter. Driving changes were symbolic of the changes happening in my life.

Snow, briefly though it might lay on the ground, had come to the Sierras, and the mountain passes of Nevada.  Armed with our best knowledge, we plunged from mid-Fall into winter, pitting our skills and hopes against Mother Nature.  Knowing my Father was due to come out of the Rehabilitation Hospital, we drove east, toward the waiting change.

Donner Pass is one of the steepest, extended climbs in the US. In the space of 100 miles, the roadway climbs from 45 feet to 7057 feet. The sudden immersion in the elements was like a knife-edge change to my life.

Racing east, the snows greeted us on Donner Pass.  One prior Christmas, we had traversed the snow buried Pass in an all-wheel drive vehicle.  Without knowing of the need for this trip, we had unsuccessfully forayed into the used car market.  We were forced to trust our little Sentra was up to the task, and the roads would be opened.  Once into Nevada, we met the storm four more times, as we crested successive mountain passes.  Had there been an opportunity to pull over, or turn around, we would have waited out the storm.  But, change had come, and waited not.

The Wasatch Range stands east of Salt Lake City, forcing a climb of 2300 feet to Evanston, Wyoming. Reliance on the skills and visibility of a semi to help us navigate blinding snow was symbolic of our need for others to help us help my Father.

We reached Casper Thursday evening.  Throughout the drive, we were occasionally distracted by our San Francisco Giants clawing their way to a World Championship.  For the remainder of the trip, Halloween, Sandy, a Bronco’s win, a Nebraska football win, and an Election would drift by, little noticed and unimportant.  Knowing my Father would soon exit Elkhorn, we visited Assisted Living facilities in Casper.  Marian had faced this with her Mother two years before.  She was utterly invaluable in understanding what was important, and prioritizing our concerns.  With her support, I came to terms with how cooking might be done, carpets and area rugs that might snare a walker or a cane.  We confronted taboo topics like shower benches, grab bars for toilets, and help taking baths and dressing.  Spurred on by my Father’s question, “Where am I going to live now”, change had come for us all.

The well-being and safety of my Father was central to evaluating where he might live. I was driven by the need to make my Father safe, and give him the opportunity to find hope again.

Conditioned by a life time, deferring to my Father, I was presented with endless judgment calls.  Wanting to believe he wanted to make the decisions, we tried to describe his options, showing him glossy brochures and hastily taken snap shots.  I am gratified he accepted some of our recommendations.  I am relieved he still made different choices on other things.  Walking out of Elkhorn, forever changing his life, he was applauded by the staff..

My Father spent eight days at Elkhorn, learning tmove wio thout injuring himself, and restoring basic abilities to get out of bed, dress, and climb stairs, skills which had slowly deserted him. For the entire ten days I spent with him, I waited in vane for his smile to return. This was as close as he got.

My Father chose Meadow Wind Assisted Living Center.  The older wing, built several years ago, has been augmented by a new, two story wing.  My Father joins about sixty other residents.  Having lived for so many years on the West Side of Casper, he had returned to the East Side, about a mile from his old house on Country Club.  Change had come, again.

My Father was determined to go to Assisted Living, rather than a Nursing Home. I am sad  he will need assistance for the rest of his life. I am happy he will get as much help as he needs.

Meadow Wind was the second facility we visited.  It was tidy and clean.  The residents seemed alert and happy.  I hold out hope that my Father will embrace the change.  He is no longer trapped in his tri-level house, friends melting away, feeling his age and frailty isolating him from the world.  He has been rated as about mid-range in terms of age and physical abilities.  Change has come.  Once again he is no longer the oldest, slowest, or most frail.  He can become part of a community, forming relationships with those of similar age, experience, and interests.  If his natural extroverted optimism surfaces, he can form meaningful bonds that will last the rest of his days.

Moving to Assisted Living can be viewed one of two ways. It is either a move to like-minded people of his age, with similar interests and conditions,. Or it is a move from a life of independence and familiarity. threatened by pain and danger. We hope he chooses to move toward happiness, community, and safety.

A phone call took us to Wyoming.  For ten long days, we helped my Father find a new place to live, safe from those threats which had so recently harmed him.  He helped us sort through a life time of possessions in his large, tri-level house, and pick those things which he wanted in his new, two-room apartment.  With tears in our eyes, we returned to California, forever changed.

Change came to my Father, to me, to my Family. We were given time and an opportunity to improve my Father’s situation. We returned to California, knowing he is safe, and has a chance to be comfortable and happy.



Filed under Family, Fathers, Relationships

4 responses to “F4 Change Came Suddenly

  1. Bob Clark

    Thank you for giving us such a warm and heartfelt story. I experienced a very similar journey with my parents and then their transitions and although your story brought back such sadness of life, I really helped me deal with my daily thoughts of my parents. Remember that in memories, no pain shall kiss the brow and the love of the ages will fill your years. I felt that I was reading a Joseph Conrad or a Pat Conroy story, it was filled with such depth, emotion and clarity. Thank you again and my thoughts are with you and your family. Bob

    • Bob – Thank you for your kind words. I know that many children have already faced what I face. The end, at whatever time, will be sad. But, I am honored to share part of my Father’s journey. Pat

  2. Charlie Fautin

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts & feelings with us Pat. Our heartfelt wishes are with your father, you and your entire family.

Let us know what you thought, we'd love to know. Thanks - Pat and Marian

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